ABA updates guidance relating to compulsory disclosures by attorneys

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued Formal Opinion 473 that extends the advice related to when an attorney may disclose confidential client information.

The formal opinion is intended to update Formal Opinion 94-385, issued 21 years ago, and subsequent Ethics 2000 amendments.

Since then, questions have arisen regarding how a lawyer should respond to subpoenas, demands or other compulsory process for client information and documents, particularly when the client is not available for consultation or when the client and attorney disagree on how to respond.

"A lawyer receiving a subpoena or other compulsory process for information or documents relating to the representation of a client has several obligations," the opinion said, before spelling out suggested paths for an attorney to follow depending on the situation, including whether a lawyer must appeal a ruling adverse to a client the lawyer cannot locate.

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior.

Formal Opinion 473 and other ABA ethics opinions are available on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility website.

Published: Mon, Feb 29, 2016